Dickinson's Mackoff Kellogg Law Firm adjusts to Changes in 126th Year

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School of Law


The city of Dickinson was in its infancy when pioneer attorney Leslie A. Simpson stepped off the train in October of 1889.

He liked what he saw -- a railroad town bustling with trade and a destination for immigrants in search of land and business opportunities. Simpson rented an office above the First National Bank and opened a law practice that's known today as the Mackoff Kellogg Law Firm.

Dickinson remains a center of commerce more than 125 years later and is again a destination point for thousands seeking jobs in the Oil Patch.

"Over time, laws change, people's needs change, but people needing help -- that's always constant," Mackoff Kellogg attorney Jason J. Henderson said.

"It's not that dissimilar today," added attorney and firm president Charles J. Peterson. "Every day, there's always something new that walks into the door. That's one of the exciting things about practicing law."

Henderson and Peterson are among Mackoff Kellogg's 10 attorneys, two retiring attorneys and 40 support staff. The firm's offices are at 38 Second Avenue East.

"We have a lot of staff who assist us and are very instrumental in making this office work well and efficiently to handle our clients' issues," Peterson said. "We don't have lots of extra room by any means, but its actually an excellent location for us."

Why a career in law?

A native of Regent, Peterson graduated from the University of North Dakota School of Law and has been associated with the firm for 25 years. His practice areas include oil and gas law, property law, commerce law, as well as estate planning and probate. Until recently, he was also the Golden Valley state's attorney.

"I actually went into law because I really enjoy helping my clients find solutions to their problems," Peterson said.

Growing up on a farm in LaMoure County, Henderson said, "Back to age 12 or so, I was thinking I'd like to be a lawyer, but I didn't know what that meant, necessarily. It comes from what I observed as a kid and thinking that was something I could do. Similar to Chuck, I saw it as a way to help people resolve issues."

Henderson referenced a statement made by a professor regarding the law.

"He said, 'Lawyers are problem-solvers.' That's the heart of it when you get right down to it. The speed of technology has changed, but the heart of what we do is always the same."

Henderson described himself as the transactions guy at the firm, the attorney who works with clients regarding estate planning, real estate transactions and business set-ups.

Mackoff Kellogg attorney Christina Wenko was inspired to pursue law after watching lawyers on TV.

"I thought they were super-fascinating and I knew from a very young age that's what I wanted to do," she said.

Upon reflection, she added, "Television law is nothing like the real thing. Things don't happen like on 'Law and Order.'"

A native of Hettinger, Wenko graduated from Dickinson State University and the UND School of Law. She worked for Mackoff Kellogg as a staff member, a summer law clerk, an associate and now as a partner.

"It's been a gradual step up the ladder," she said. "I always knew I'd end up back here."

Wenko specializes in family law, estate planning and advocacy work with juveniles. Last year, she was selected to as chair of Inquiry Committee West, which addresses complaints filed by an attorney or a client against attorney.

"It's a lot of responsibility and a great honor for me," he said. "I'm very fortunate to be put in that position as I get to learn from others' mistakes."

The area's population growth has impacted the way Wenko serves her clients.

"We're seeing an influx of people coming into the area, and we're having to deal with matters taking place outside of North Dakota," she said. "It's been a challenge. In some cases we are dealing with people from all 50 states coming to North Dakota."

Surge of growth

Mackoff Kellogg experienced a surge of growth after its merger with the Maus & Nordsven law firm in 2014. Wenko expressed her appreciation to retiring attorneys Michael Maus and Mary Nordsven for their support in the transition.

"That dialogue has really helped me personally and it's nice to think we're able to call them, even if they are retired," she said. "I think their passion for the law has also helped us."

The law firm is always busy, regardless of the state of the economy, Peterson said.

"As lawyers, we are less impacted by the economy because it presents different problems that have to be addressed by the clients," he said. "If the economy is going well, we are dealing with more transactions, sales of oil and gas leases and so on, but if the economy slows up, you may deal with debt collections. They all need some legal assistance."

Mackoff Kellogg is the oldest law firm in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. Many of the attorneys are licensed in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Several attorneys also are licensed in Minnesota and Wyoming, Peterson said.

"We're in an excellent position right now with the number of attorneys," he added. "I think we have built up a good reputation. Promotion is through word of mouth and we hope our clients are satisfied with our services."

Career satisfaction

When asked why the law excites them, Peterson said, "To me, what's exciting every day is having to deal with some new issue."

As an example, he referenced his work in estate planning and business succession plans.

"It's not an easy process to go through," he said. "I evaluate what the options are, but it has to be the right option for that particular family. We assist them with options. It might be selling, it might be a transition to the kids. It's filling a need in the community."

For Wenko, "It's being able to make a call to your client and give them good news or to negotiate a deal or sit down for a one-on-one conversation," she said. "It's knowing someone is coming to you needing help, to know how to interpret that and to respond to the client. That's a very humbling experience."

Wenko also appreciates the opportunity to develop community ties.

"Clients become your friends," she said. "Its not, 'You're my attorney.' It's, 'You're my friend.' I can have an outside-the-office friendship with you and those are the things you can't put a price tag on."

Discussing the rewards of law, Henderson recalled a transaction he recently worked -- that of helping a retiring farmer pass the land to a son.

"I'm dealing with hard-working farmers who know their trades very, very well, but are dealing with legal bureaucracy," he said. "That's where I come in. I can help them work through that. It helps me relate to where I came from, who I am, and that's rewarding to me."

Wenko added her appreciation to the Mackoff Kellogg staff.

"There's no way, shape or form we've gotten here without the people we have working for us," she said. "I honestly can't thank them enough. They're kind of like an engine. All the parts have to run together."

In addition to Peterson, Henderson and Wenko, the attorneys associated with Mackoff Kellogg are David C. Piper, Casey J. Kostelecky, Cassie Dellwo, Elizabeth Ebert, Haylee M. Cripe, Patrick D. Hope, and Jared D. Larsen.